Opinion: Steps for regional integration of capital markets

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In mature capital markets, regional integration shows significant benefits in unlocking potential and allowing investors to mobilize liquidity across borders by interconnecting diverse markets. Regional integration seems to be the future of world capital markets.

Can it also work for African capital markets, many of which face considerable problems of liquidity?

Many parts of the world have already tackled integration and each has faced its own challenges. In the past, the state of the technology and the feasibility of effective regional integration used to be a major challenge, and often offset the benefits.

This has changed. The technology has become cost-effective and industrial standards have evolved, based upon the widespread experience and solid implementations in different regions. Remaining challenges that still prevent smooth implementation are not in technology but in the business processes and political will.

First it is important to understand the landscape. Africa’s exchanges are usually divided into 4 categories:
• Dominant market: South Africa is the biggest contender
• Medium-size market: Each region tends to have its leading market
• Emerging markets: Several markets are growing fast and showing innovation and determination
• Markets yet to take off: Some are recently established, some are showing slow growth.

As African stock markets have become larger and more prevalent over the last 10 years, there have been preliminary moves towards regional integration. This is the global trend, but more importantly because integration can meet the mutual needs of the exchanges themselves.

Lack of liquidity is a major constraint to attracting influxes of foreign capital (portfolio investment) and to efficient allocation of savings and asset pricing. The different businesses (shares) on offer can be limited and the size of potential deals is often small. Pricing and other cross-comparisons within sectors and across companies can be difficult.

Efficient securities markets in Africa will help exchanges act as efficient channels for the growing pools of domestic savings funds (pensions and insurance) towards national growth and development – both infrastructure and enterprises – as well as providing comfort for foreign and domestic investors. Links and eventual integration between national stock exchanges is the way to ensure this.

Talk of pan-African or other continental structures can be a distraction. It may overlook the necessary work to be done on national and regional limits, including exchange controls, prudential regulations, macro-economic stability and others. It ignores the key roles of local securities exchanges, which are already central in their national economies and have working legal frameworks and institutional set-ups that can be built upon.

Each market has evolved according to the needs of the market participants and the challenges that have been impacting them. Each has its own electronic platforms built for the local practices. Existing micro-level frameworks can prevent change being introduced in a straightforward fashion. For example, in certain markets, turn-around trading is yet not available and settlement procedures are longer than necessary. Regional integration can take this into account if it involves a pragmatic framework that accommodates the composition of the markets.

In most regions, regulations are a key limitation on integration. The enabling environment for integration requires common policies, institutions and regional frameworks and, above all, the necessary political commitment that ensures macroeconomic stability. Cross-border settlements are difficult as there are no common currencies and the cost of trading is higher due to intermediary costs. Regulatory work to be overcome includes tackling national exchange controls, harmonization of regulations and recognizing each other’s institutions and intermediaries. Prudential limits on cross-border funds’ investments and regulations that stop share offers being marketed across borders could also be rolled back.

Political will is needed to recognize the importance of national structures and to recognize the added value of an integrated regional structure.

Regional integration demands not only that participants agree on a common standard of procedures at the higher level, but that there are platforms to support the regional integration charter. Initially the process may be structured around entities that exchange information with each other but operate on their own.

An ideal is to think towards forming one mega-enterprise with national outposts – Africa’s example is the BRVM which provides an integrated exchange linking 8 markets and is firmly anchored in the considerable monetary and policy integration structures in the francophone region. The evolving future regional exchanges should link all stakeholders through a set of global processes that bridge the gaps between the diverse systems that exist at various levels and connect all to bring value to customers.

There have already been some healthy efforts by Africa’s regional economic communities. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is supporting linkages between regulators, central bankers and the Committee of SADC Securities Exchanges. Strong advances include the SIRESS cross-border payments systems and cooperation and harmonization between exchanges and regulators, including on listing requirements. The West Africa Capital Markets Integration Council considerable progress has extended to mutual recognition of stockbrokers and regional structures, as highlighted in this blog, and cross-border share deals between national exchanges, in addition to its ground-breaking BRVM regional exchange for 8 countries. The African Development Bank (AfDB) and other multilaterals and finance institutions are supporting important projects.

One of the leaders is the East African Community (EAC), following the signature and ratification of its Common Market Protocol. The EAC Secretariat, working with the World Bank and other development partners, established the EAC Financial Sector Development and Regionalization Project I (EAC-FSDRP I) to support the development of the financial sector through the establishment of a single market in financial services among EAC Partner States. The project objective is to establish the foundation for financial-sector integration among EAC partner States, including the broadening and deepening of the financial sector through the establishment of a single market in financial services, with a view to making a wide range of financial products and services available to all, at competitive prices. InfoTech, a Pakistani IT vendor with expertise in capital markets, particularly in Africa, is delivering the capital markets linkages.

To complement work on the IT and other systems, there is much to be done at policy-making level to harmonize the rules of the game across the region, backed by full commitment of all direct and indirect stakeholders, such as stock exchanges, depository companies, regulatory authorities etc. and their IT vendors to support their existing systems so they can support the regional integration.

Implementing the capital markets regional integration project will be a big milestone and a big step in tackling the core issues that hinder effective integration. The prospects are huge.

Capacity-building at all levels is also critical. Policymakers and regulators need to enhance skills on how to grow efficient markets to ensure they support national and regional development objectives. Exchanges, brokers, banks and key advisors such as lawyers are also central. Knowledge and skills among potential issuers, including small and medium-enterprises, and investors including both institutions and the investing public, all contribute to fast growth of more efficient markets.

Integration has already been proven in advanced markets and the technology works. The biggest challenge and responsibility is with the policymakers who have to formulate a governance framework with effective support to implement the framework at grassroots level.

Working together, African capital markets are moving to the next level of their evolution.

 

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